No accounting for students: the great VET FEE HELP stuff-up

 Great Danes and cluey Queenslanders

How a Turkish ranking rates research

Which week

It’s National Psychology Week as well as National Innovation Week. When will COAG create a statutory authority to accredit research awareness occasions to stop confusing clashes? No, you we cannot leave it to the UN – it once came up with a year celebration of killer carbs International Year of the Potato.


Eight to lead the charge for basic research

The Global Council of Research Intensive Universities has passed the baton to the Group of Eight, with a brief to make the case for basic research. The Go8 is the new hosting organisation for the council, which includes peak research university groups in the US, China, Germany, Japan, UK, East Asia, Canada, Hong Kong and an alliance of ten European countries.

“In this volatile and, too often knee-jerk reactive political and policy climate, it is up to us to protect the future of basic research. It is research that is most often costly and may not show direct impact for decades when patience is a short political and community commodity, and the demand for a fast return on investment was being reflected on global share markets,” Group of Eight CEO Vicki Thomson says.

Quite right, but with the Turnbull Government focus on research as generating jobs and lots of them, preferably before the next election this will be hard sell, in Australia at least. The idea that applied research is based on blue-sky breakthroughs is not much talked about in Canberra.

Hill makes the RUNing

Greg Hill is the new chair of the Regional Universities Network. The VC of the University of the Sunshine Coast replaces Jan Thomas, who is leaving the University of Southern Queensland to become VC of Massey University in New Zealand.


Who comes next

“Looking forward to the Universities Australia VC plenary and farewelling (Federation U VC) David Battersby – massive talent,” CQU VC Scott Bowman tweeted yesterday. But people at Fed U aren’t amiably anticipating bidding Battersby goodbye; basically nobody has a clue who will replace him when he retires at year-end. Nobody that is except Chancellor Paul Hemming and the selection panel supervising a selection, which seems to have taken longer than the US election, and they aren’t talking.

Great Danes and cluey Queenslanders

University of Queensland brain researcher John McGrath has won a Danish fellowship to continue his work on schizophrenia. Professor McGrath will divide his time between UoQ and Aarhus University, working on projects including investigating a link between Vitamin D levels and schizophrenia using a sample of 80 000 infants. This builds on work by Professor McGrath’s team showing low Vitamin D in pregnant women can affect babies’ brain development.

Masters of art

Alpha animator Chris Ebeling and interaction design researcher at UTS, Andrew Johnson are the creative lead and research director of the university and Animal Logic’s joint masters of animation and visualisation. The $45 000 degree uses “a dedicated, professionally-equipped studio space-engineered to the highest industry standards.” (CMM August 5)

Equity expert

Monash lecturer in entrepreneurship Erin Watson-Lynn is the new chair of the Curtin University based National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

Intelligence examined

Michael L’estrange, former head of ANU’s National Security College in the Crawford School of Public Policy will review Australia’s intelligence agencies, with Stephen Merchant. Professor L’Estrange is a maven among mandarins, with a long career in the national security community and ministerial offices. He has led the NSC since its creation in 2009.


No accounting for students

A learned reader is intrigued by a Department of Education answer to a question asked last month in the Senate Committee inquiry into the VET student loan bills. The department was asked for an estimate of how many students with VET FEE HELP loans were actually students. The department took it on notice and has now responded in writing, stating “the department does not collect data to establish the existence (or otherwise) of students.”

To which the reader responds; “this displays complete ignorance of what the department is doing when it is administering VET FEE-HELP, which is a student entitlement. The conditions of payment include ‘the student meets the citizenship or residence requirements’ and ‘the student is enrolled in the unit (of an eligible course) at the end of the census date’. If there is not a ‘real’ qualified person in an eligible course, then there is no student entitlement.  There can be no payment made to a provider ‘in discharge of the student’s liability to pay his or her VET tuition fee’.”

What especially appalled the reader is that this answer must have been passed up the department’s chain of command and should have gone to the minister’s office. “Did they all miss the fact that this is a completely untenable response and implies they do not have even the most basic understanding of the legal and financial framework in which they are operating?” the reader adds.

Evidently not. Last month Dr Subho Banerjee from DET told the Senate committee “there was very dramatic growth and under those circumstances, it was incumbent upon the department to monitor that more closely,” (CMM October 31). He got that bit right.

Obscure but consistent

In the ranking of university league tables the Turkish Informatics Institute of Middle East Technical University’s University Ranking by Academic Performance is not way up in the Anglosphere. As far as CMM can discover, no Australian university has reported its achievement in this year’s edition. Not that there is anything wrong, or right, with the methodology which uses research volume and impact, just like all the other rankings. It’s results are also much the same as the others. Harvard is top of the global top ten, followed by the usual Anglosphere mix down to K U Leuven at 23. The University of Sydney is 27th, followed by the University of Melbourne (31), University of Queensland (41), Monash U (57), UNSW (71) are the Australian universities in the top 100.

Up to speed in Oman

Anthony Cahalan (ex DVC Swinburne Sarawak and executive dean of arts at CSU) has spent the last 14 months bringing Oman’s new university up to speed. With government approval Muscat U is now in business – it is backed by “37 top business families” and will “co-deliver” bachelors and masters in business, engineering, technology and logistics in partnership with UK universities Aston and Cranfield. A delegation from La Trobe has already been to Oman to talk about collaboration.


Making the best of it

The ever-astute Rod Camm has adjusted the for-profit training lobby’s case against the government’s new regulated VET system, in which officials will decide what courses will qualify for student loans. The head of the Australian Council of Private Education and Training has previously railed against the plan for discriminating against blameless, high quality private providers. But now he appears to accept that his members are stuck with it and should be keen to help.

“Everyone is calling for a major rethink of the course list and the arbitrary loan caps. If these issue are addressed and just a bit of evidence and analysis is conducted to adjust the current proposal, we might just have a loan scheme that can work.”

But when? As Mr Camm also points out, as of yesterday, “no private providers have any insight into how they apply for entry and plan their 2017 academic year – that is astonishing and anti-business. It is starting to look like the bureaucratic mess we feared.”